The Choson Dynasty (1392-1910) marks the
period when Korea's culinary culture was refined. In
the early part of the Choson Dynasty, agriculture books were
also widely published. Moreover, researches in the
fields of astronomy and meteorology began to invent new
equipment to observe the celestial bodies and the weather,
which contributed to improvements in farm cultivation.
Significant strides in medical research were also made and
they focused on the salutary benefits of a balanced diet
which included a combination of rice, beans, vegetables,
fish and meat. The traditional dining table was
classified into a three-ch'op, and five-ch'op,
and a seven-ch-nop table, depending on the number of
side dishes (panch-an). On the table, food was
arranged in order to promote a balanced nutrition.
Small amounts of medical herbs that were
known to aid digestion were also sometimes added,
particularly in the food of those who frequently suffered
from indigestion. A variety of herbs were also mixed
into water to make different kinds of healthful tea.
These ingredients could be easily cultivated at home.
During the Choson Dynasty when
Confucianism gained a stronghold in society, the culinary
culture of Koreans underwent some significant changes.
Since food preparation had to be made for many members of
the household of varying ages, special techniques were
required to cook and manage these large quantities of food.
Women, for the most part, took on this burden among
themselves. Also, given Confucianism family-oriented
world view, special rites and ceremonies were often
performed for family members, both living and deceased, and
ceremonial food had to be prepared. in the course of
preparing these frequent banquets, the families of the
Choson period developed their own specialty foods according
to regional and social standing. Variations in styles
and preparation of these foods have certainly contributed to
the variety of Korea's contemporary culinary culture.
The basic sauces of most Korean homes
during the Choson Dynasty were soy sauce, bean paste, barley
paste, and red pepper paste. The soy sauce and bean
paste were cured with soybean malts, barley paste with
barley malts, and red pepper paste with red pepper powder
and malts made of glutinous rice, bean and rice. Since
many Korean dishes are seasoned with these sauces, they are
the key to what makes Korean food taste Korea.
Soybeans are boiled in the early winter to make malt, which
is then dried during the winter season Between late
February and early March, the malt is soaked in water and
fermented for 60 - 100 days. Later, some portions of
the malt is sterilized by heating and made into soy sauce;
the remaining dregs become bean paste.
Kimchi is a uniquely pungent
mixture of fermented vegetables and its variations amounted
to roughly 80 kinds of dishes during the Choson period.
For spring, summer and fall consumption, kimchi was
cured in a small quantity, but for the winter months, large
quantities were made so that it could be eaten over three or
four months. The kimchi-curing for the winter
season was called, "kimjang" and was
usually done in late November.
In ancient times, kimchi was made
of greens picked and salt or a salt and alcohol mixture. By
the end of Unified Shillan ad the beginning of Koryo,
sliced-radish kimchi pickled in brine became popular.
Soon thereafter chili was introduced to Korea around 1500
and it was added to make kimchi as well. During
the late Choson era, powdered chili, together with chotkal
(fish or shellfish paste), bcame the favored ingredients in kimchi.
In the southern regions, the chotkal was amde of
anchovies, while in the northern regions, croaker and shrimp
chotkal were more popular. The climatic
differences of each region affected the taste of kimchi
as well. In warm places, chotkal andchili
poweder were used in abundance so that kimchi could
be prevented from going bad. On the other hand, kimchi
made in colder areas was less salty and pungent.
Today, many firms are mass-producing kimchi.
During the Choson period, ceremonies were
an important part of every family household and as a
consequence, special goods for those ceremonies were
developed. In particular, on the occasions of marriage
and Hwan-gap, a special table-setting was arranged,
which featured a variety of foods stacked to about 30-50
centimeters high in a shape of a big cylinder. It was
a matter of course that long years of experience was needed
to stack to products successfully. Of the many
ceremonial dishes, rice cakes and confectionaries were
Rice cakes, or ttok, are made of
rice, and beans or other grains. In ancient times,
rice cakes were eaten both during ordinary meal times and
during ceremonies of rituals. It was only later, after
the Three Kingdoms period, that rice cakes became primarily
associated with ceremonial foods. Thus, rice cakes
boast of a long tradition in the Korean history. Being
indigenous and widely favored, there are many varieties.
Rice cakes fall into three categories by cooking methods;
steamed, and hen pounded, and fried. Most of them are
made of rice, but other ingredients such as bean, red bean,
chestnut, flowers, and herbs are also added to make
variations of marvelous flavors, scents and colors.
The records of Choson show as many as about 250 different
types of rice cakes.
Traditional confectionaries are mostly
made of wheat flour, honey and oil. Since these
ingredients were rare in Korea, the confectionaries were
prepared only for parties and ceremonies. Some popular
traditional Korea confectioneries include yakkwa,
kangjong, tashik, chon-gwa, yot-kangjong, and kwapyon.
Yakkwa is made of wheat flour
kneaded with oil, honey and alcohol. The batter is
fried and then dipped into honey. Yakkwa comes
in different sizes and shapes. It was often made in
the shape of flowers or fish, and during the Choson period,
some yakkwa were prepared as large as 7 centimeters
wide and long and 3 centimeters thick. They were
displayed in stacked form.
Kangjong is made of glutinous rice
flour mixed with alcohol. The batter is kneaded,
divided, and then dried. The dried batter is fried and
coated with honey.
Tashik (Powdered grains and
pollen) is kneaded with honey and shaped into decorative
molds. Beans, pine pollen, sesame, and rice usually
Chon-gwa is made of ginsen,
Chinese quince, ginger, lotus root, steamed rice, and
jujube, which are boiled in honey.
Yot-kangjong are roasted beans or
sesame mixed with grain-glucose and then hardened.
Kwapyon is made from the flesh of
strawberries, wide berries or cherries smashed up and
hardened in honey.
From ancient times, Koreans have used a
spoon and chopsticks are their eating utensils. The
spoon was for scooping steamed rice, soup and stew, while
chopsticks were used to eat a variety of prepared side
dishes. Koreans are trained to use the spoon and the
chopsticks correctly from childhood. Using both of
these utensils at the same time is considered bad manners.
Meals were served on either high or low
tables until the Koryo Dynasty. However, during the
Choson Dynasty, the low table came to be predominantly used
due to a type of under the floor heating system (ondol)
that came into vogue at that time. The tables were
often beautifully shaped and decorated. During the
rituals and palace ceremonies, however, the high tables
continued to be used, preserving the ancient tradition.
Nowadays, the seated dining table with chairs is becoming
popular while many families still use low tables.
Pansang is the usual meal of
steamed rice, soup and side dishes.
Changkuksang is the main dish, and
it is arranged with kimchi, cold greens, mixed
vegetables, pan-fried dishes, confectionary, fruit and fruit
punch. This simple meal can be served as lunch as
Chuansang - Alcoholic drinks (chu)
and accompanying side dishes (an) are set on the
table. The dishes vary depending on the kinds of
liquor or wine.
Kyojasang is a large table
prepared for banquets. Alcoholic beverages and a large
variety of side dishes, rice cakes, confectionaries and
fruit punch are all placed on the table. After the
liquor is finished, noodle soup is served.
Paegil (100th day after the birth
of a baby) - Steamed rice, brown seaweed soup, white rice
cakes, rice cake balls.
Tol (first birthday) - Steamed
rice, brown seaweed soup, white rice cakes, rice cake balls,
rice cakes of five different colors steamed on a layer of
White rice cakes represent sacredness,
rice cake balls, escape from misfortune, and rice cakes of
five different colors, the five elements and the five
Marriage - The parents-in-law of the
bride and bridegroom both prepare special dishes to express
their mutual happiness and congratulations. The food
includes fruit, confectionaries, and rice cakes which are
stacked 30-60 centimeters high. This kind of table
setting is called, "kyobaesang."
Hwan-gap (60th birthday) - Kyobaesang
is also prepared to celebrate one's 60th birthday.
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